NAJIT just held its annual conference a few weeks back, and my experience as a first-time attendee drew comparisons with last year’s ATA’s conference. Those in the know – know that NAJIT and ATA are two of the most significant US-based organizations for interpreters and translators, and that each organization holds its own annual conference. Here’s some first-hand tips on how to do conferences like NAJIT, and how these two events compare.
NAJIT, the National Association of Judicial Interpreters & Translators, is the go-to organization for all things law. The main body of the 2016 conference was held on a Saturday and Sunday in May, with select workshops offered on Friday (the 13th!). As a new professional, I had very limited contact with NAJIT (accepting some casual conversation with a few members) prior to the conference, but knew that getting involved would be instrumental to my efforts in establishing myself in the topical area of law. This is in stark contrast to how I approached attending the 2015 ATA (American Translators Association) conference, where I had previously been able to be a part of the organization’s activities by getting involved with the local ATA chapter (I’m a board member of NCATA – ATA's DC subchapter), and that ATA is more focused on general skills than those related to a specific topical area.
Coming in to San Antonio from DC meant that I would need to make both flight and hotel arrangements. I reserved a spot for a Friday afternoon workshop, and paid for the conference fees online. The plan was to arrive the morning of, drop my bags in the hotel room, grab a quick power nap, and attend the workshop. Then, I thought it would be nice to meet up with both new and old friends over dinner to close out the evening. As for the rest of the weekend, I planned to just go with the flow until my flight left on Sunday afternoon.
Tip #1: Fly to the event the day before
This might seem pretty obvious, but flights can and will be problematic. Despite being scheduled to arrive several hours in advance of the workshop, my plans were a little roughed up by the lovely attendants at BWI who felt that it was in all our best interests to remain in the security line for a really long time (perhaps now they’ve changed their mind?). Anyway, flight missed; workshop missed. Not too much harm done, and I got to chill with friends in the evening anyway. Still, it was a shame to miss Judy Jenner’s workshop on depositions.
Tip #2: Spring for the in-house hotel room
One of my best decisions was to bite the bullet and get a room at the same hotel in which the event was being held. NAJIT 2016 was held at the Marriott Rivercenter. Pretty swanky and pretty pricy, but well worth it after a long day of workshops/presentations/networking/dinners. Staying in-house meant that I had peace of mind in knowing that I could get back and forth between the conference and my room to handle any involved business phone calls or emergencies. It was also a benefit in that the hotel offered the flexibility for me to leave my belongings in the hotel room past the standard checkout time, so that I could finish out the conference based on my schedule – not the hotel’s.
The Comparison – People and Professionals
NAJIT is focused. Much more so than ATA. This focus puts one in a great position to meet experts from a highly diverse background set, where professionals learn about what other professionals do as interpreters and translators of law. At ATA 2015, I met both agencies and LSP’s that specialize in my language combination (Chinese/English). We spoke to one another, and made lasting friendships, based on what our language combinations or language needs are. NAJIT presented an entirely different dynamic. I think this is because of three main reasons.
NAJIT conferences have been described as ‘united’. The number of attendees at this year’s NAJIT, from my anecdotal point of view, was in the hundreds. ATA 2015, if consistent with prior years, was in the thousands. No better or worse judgement is implied here for either case, but it certainly designs a different dynamic. Relationship building just seems to happen better in a low population density environment than in a high-density micro-networking environment.
Focus on the topic
Law and all its relations (ethics, practice, specialties, etc.) can be a bear of a topic, and NAJIT provides a unique opportunity to focus on this single area for an extended period of time. A full weekend offers one time to focus the mind on several concepts and make novel connections between related, but distinct, presentations. This seems to foster the ‘stimulating’ and ‘passionate’ quality that has been spoken about NAJIT previously.
Focus on the members
At NAJIT, I met people and learned about their stories and profession. We did not share business cards because of a common language combination, or because we were both ‘newbies’. I had conversations with people that, in learning about their backgrounds, allowed me connect better to my personal practice. The interpreter whose mother and father came from different continents and now live in the US. The pre-interpreter/translator lives of others. The fact that I observed my first town-hall style meeting where individuals had an opportunity to speak with the board about personal and organizational concerns. The connections I made with other members happened in a very organic way.
Put another feather in that hat, would ya NAJIT?